“Mhare yehan ise Thapana kehwein ji” (we call it Thapana). “Choe se nikali hei” (originated of aquifers), this was Rana ji in response to my query about a brook that had caught my eye.
We were in Kanalsi village in Yamunanagar district of Haryana and Kiranpal Rana, the head of local Nadi Mitra Mandali (NMM) was show casing his crop of organic potatoes to the NMM participants of a workshop on ‘Natural farming’ then underway at the village. Raju Titus (regrettably now ‘late’) a famous Fukuoka mould natural farmer from Hoshangabad (MP) was leading the said workshop.
Rana ji’s field in reference lay across the river Somb, a major & perhaps the only tributary of the Yamuna in the state of Haryana with the two meeting at a stone’s throw distance away from the village. My attention had been taken by a lovely though small brook skirting Rana ji’s field to meet the larger Somb and hence the query.
One had heard of aquifer streams but not seen one till then. To henceforth discover and understand Thapana better became a personal thirst. But first about the local name since the Survey of India map carried no name for it.
“Misra ji, yeh jab apne me aawe to thapede maarti aawe” (when it floods it slaps hard) was a very down to earth explanation given by Rana ji for its local name, Thapana.
The Shivaliks, the southernmost and youngest mountains of the east west Himalayan range often get underplayed in comparison to the majestic snow-clad peaks which form the headwaters of famous rivers like the Ganga and Yamuna. It is well known that these mighty rivers had to work hard to cut through the almost uninterrupted range of the Shivaliks to access the Indo Gangetic plains. A not so well-known fact is that the southern slopes of the latter has given rise to a large number of rivulets, locally called ‘raus’ to act as perennial and seasonal tributaries to these mighty rivers. Still poorly appreciated is that the porous and thirsty bhabar tract on the foothills of Shivaliks sucks in huge amount of monsoon waters to emerge down the gradient as perennial aquifer streams and marshy tracts in what is called the Terai belt running almost parallel to the hill range. Thapana is one such gift of the Shivaliks, offering tributes to the river Somb and in turn to the river Yamuna.
Our subsequent visits to Kanalsi weren’t complete till a Thapana darshan had been accomplished. To its credit it never, no matter the season, disappointed us. A midstream impoundment upstream a culvert on it had shown promise of the presence of Mahseer (Tor putitora) a fish now rarely seen in the Yamuna system. Our affection and respect for the Thapana turned deeper.
Emerging as a shy and tentative little stream it appeared almost reluctant to leave the safety of a marshy forest of tall grasses and sedges.
Crystal clear it soon attracts few similar ones to form a perceptible gurgling stream. A rapid faunal survey in December 2012 found the presence of 5 mammals, 79 birds, 7 butterflies, 5 dragonflies, 12 fish, 3 reptiles and 1 amphibian in and around its channel.
Further investigations revealed that these are in fact two different aquifer streams spread over a catchment of some 30 sq km area. With their own little tributaries, they come together into one just short of the confluence with the Somb. In their catchment lie some thirty-one villages. Paddy, wheat and sugarcane are the key agricultural crops while poplar (Populus ciliate) is a favourite tree crop. The adverse impact of high input farming was all too visible in form of water hyacinth having choked a longish section of the rivulet.
Interestingly on a February day (6 2 2013) when the Yamuna had suddenly gone muddy from a flash flood in it, the Thapana was unconcernedly crystal clear due to its aquifer origins.
Now showing more than a casual interest in it, Rana ji and his colleagues orgazed a meeting of the local farmers where the rarity, strengths and beauty of the Thapana was show cased to them. The result was the declaration of Thapana as a Jan sanrakshit dharohar (Community Conserved Heritage) and 27th September, the World’s Rivers Day was agreed to be observed as Thapana Diwas (day) on an annual basis. Local youngsters began to patrol the stream banks to keep fish poachers away and to discourage the stream bank farmers from farming too close to it. Notice boards were erected and a festive atmosphere began to emerge around the stream with local kids encouraged to visit and savour it.
Emboldened by the interest shown by NMM we embarked in close collaboration with the Yamuna Sewa Samiti to research and produce a bilingual Somb-Thapana Catchment restoration plan with a ‘to do’ list of things by various stake holders like the local farmers, panchayat members, religious leaders, NGOs, researchers and government agencies like the forest, agriculture and the irrigation departments.
It has been five years since NMM took on stewardship of ‘its’ Thapana. But a lot has since changed in the region with river sand and boulder mining reaching brinkmanship proportions. A part of Haryana which then seemed little touched by the juggernaut of ‘development’ sans chemical farming has suddenly been pushed to the frontline of resource extraction as if there was no tomorrow. While NMM’s resolve to protect its heritage stream cannot be doubted but if it has been able to withstand the machinations of sand Mafiosos is hard to tell. Our fingers remain crossed!
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